NEWPORT, Ky. — Many people who live in and visit northern Kentucky consider the region to be a “hidden gem,” but the organization in charge of trying to get more people to visit has been successful in making it less hidden.
Northern Kentucky is the number two economic impact area in Kentucky, according to MeetNKY.
It was clear Tim Reichmuth was from out of town from his Indiana t-shirt. In an interview with Spectrum News 1, Reichmuth confirmed he was visiting Newport with his wife.
“We’re from Indianapolis,” he said. “We have been here multiple times, prior to the whole COVID thing. This is our first time back since then.”
He explained why they came back, rooted in their love for the area.
“We love the river. We love the Levee area here. We’re glad to see that it’s filling back in. We’re going to go to the aquarium, Reichmuth said. “In fact, I just had this conversation the other day with my son, who just moved back from California. I told him me and my wife Dawn were coming here. And he was like, ‘Oh, what’s there?’ And so we had this discussion, and then I sent him some pictures from the hotel we were staying at, looking out on the river. And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s fire, send me the information.’ So I think he’s coming to northern Kentucky.”
For those unaware, “fire” is a very good answer to a question the folks with MeetNKY think about constantly. President and CEO Julie Kirkpatrick does so, especially, and especially in recent years.
“During COVID, I don’t think it’s a secret that the tourism industry was damaged severely,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced more than $22 million in funding for Kenton County to support law enforcement, clean water, nonprofit organizations and, of particular interest to Kirkpatrick, tourism. Kirkpatrick said the funds will help continue a recovery which, she said, has already gone very well for northern Kentucky.
“Northern Kentucky’s tourism industry has recovered beyond 2019 levels. The hotels are posting their best results now. All of our attractions are up double digit visitation year over year. And northern Kentucky is back to $1.7 billion of economic impact. It’s been a long road,” she said.
Coleman awarded $9,593,787 to MeetNKY. More than $4.5 million of the funding supports travel marketing and promotion.
Another $5 million will go toward attracting business meetings and conventions, an area Kirkpatrick said has not recovered as well. Kirkpatrick said MeetNKY will use funds to provide incentives for new groups to visit the region.
These awards are part of the $75 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding supported by the governor and allocated by the General Assembly in 2022 to boost the state’s tourism industry and economy following the decline in visitors brought on by the pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear announced the awards in July.
On the travel end, she said MeetNKY will aggressively market the region’s traditional tourism drivers like the Newport Aquarium and Ark Encounter. It will also target outdoor recreation. England Idlewild park, Kirkpatrick pointed out for example,has one of the country’s top disc golf courses.
“Northern Kentucky’s brand is really the start of southern hospitality,” she said. “We don’t want to be a hidden gem anymore. We want to be in your sights. And come visit us and see what we have to offer.”
Reichmuth said his feelings about northern Kentucky going from a hidden to more visible gem are mixed.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag, right? I love the idea of: we come, and we know there’s stuff we’re going to find to do. And they’re not gonna be super crowded. But it would also be nice for it to grow, so that there’s more stuff to do when we come,” he said.
Despite, however, any reservations about growing crowds travelers may have, Kirkpatrick said they should embrace the growth.
“This is our time,” she said.
MeetNKY is also aggressively marketing international travel. That includes British Airways’ new direct flight from CVG to London starting June 5. Those marketing efforts are also happening in Paris and Toronto.